Cherry half-right on visors: surveys

Numbers took centre stage Thursday in the debate over visors in the NHL, while Don Cherry himself took to the airwaves to defend his now-infamous Jan. 24 rant.

Various media outlets anaylzed the numbers behind the debate – over who wears visors, and whether wearing one increases the frequency of stick-work – and while some supported Cherry's position, others didn't.

Speaking on Grapeline, his daily syndicated radio spot with Brian Williams of CBC Sports, the 70-year-old Hockey Night in Canada icon stuck to his original statement that NHL players wearing visors incur more sticking infractions than those without.

"Usually the guys who are cutting guys are the ones who wear visors ... because they they don't show the same respect" as those who do not.

It marked the first time he addressed the issue head-on since landing in hot water over his Jan. 24 Coach's Corner segment.

During that eight-minute broadcast, Cherry said "Europeans and French guys" made up most of the visor wearers in the league, and that those who wear them have less respect for player safety than those who go without such protection.

Interestingly, several surveys conducted since have proven Cherry half-right.

While visor wearers in the NHL are, in fact, drawn largely from European and French Canadian backgrounds, they commit less than their expected share of high-sticking penalties.

A survey conducted by CBC Sports Online Thursday indicated Cherry is wrong in his assertion that NHL players wearing visors commit the most high-sticking infractions.

In an analysis of every NHL game from Jan. 25-Feb. 5, Sports Online discovered that 97 high-sticking penalties were called over 82 games.

Sixty-one non-visored players drew 64 of the penalties (66 per cent) while 29 visored players were whistled 33 times (34 per cent).

If Cherry's assertion was true, those numbers should be closer together, even reversed.

But Cherry doesn't appear to be all wrong. Several surveys of NHL players indicate that French Canadian and European players, proportionately, make up more of the NHL's visor wearers than their North American counterparts.

Winnipeg lawyer Curtis Unfried told CBC Newsworld on Wednesday that 59 per cent of Europeans wear visors and 55 per cent from Quebec compared to just 20 per cent of North Americans born outside Quebec.

"The numbers speak for themselves and clearly show what he did say is correct," Unfried explained.

A Toronto Star survey released yesterday related a similar trend, with 50 per cent of Europeans wearing visors followed by 40 percent from Quebec and 20 per cent of North Americans born outside Quebec.

That prompted writer Neco Cockburn to conclude "a greater proportion of players with European or Quebec roots wear the facial protection than do those from the rest of Canada or the U.S."

On a slightly different note, The Canadian Press found 51 per cent of visor wearers are Europeans and, combined with the 11 per cent from Quebec, easily outweigh the 22 per cent of North Americans born outside Quebec.

But those numbers don't faze Adrian Dix, executive director of the B.C.-based Canadian Parents for French, one of the first people to sound off publicly about Cherry's Coach's Corner statements.

"I don't think that's what the story is," contended Dix. "He's still wrong to be talking about French Canadians.

"He has every right to express his own views on visors. But what I think is objectionable is to attack a linguistic group."

Cherry argued Jan. 24 that players with visors tended to be more reckless with their sticks, and sparked outrage by saying "most of the guys that wear them are Europeans and French guys."

The remark incensed fans, French Canadian interest groups, CBC executives and even federal MPs.

It also prompted investigations from the CBC ombudsman, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and Dyane Adam, the official languages commissioner.

"I knew I'd get in a little trouble," Cherry said Tuesday. "But I didn't think I'd get in the House of Parliament."

Adam agreed to look into whether Cherry violated the Official Languages Act when Canadian Parents for French filed a formal complaint with CBC, which broadcasts HNIC.

CBC executive vice-president Harold Redekopp not only denounced Cherry's opinion, but ordered that Coach's Corner be aired on a seven-second delay to ensure "comments of this nature will not be repeated."

with files from CP Online